Robert Fox of James J. Fox Tobacconists, located in Dublin and London.
The rarified realm of vintage and collectible Cuban cigars can be as intimidating as it is mysterious. Like French wine and fine art, Cuban cigars often appreciate in monetary value as they get older, especially cigars from limited-production runs—but you have to know which ones to buy. Not all Cubans become more valuable over time. And while most enthusiasts buy cigars to smoke them, some purchase cigars as long-term (and short-term) investments.
Speaking on the Big Smoke panel for the first time, Rob Fox came all the way from Dublin to advise the crowd of 550 smokers on how to invest in Cuban cigars. He’s the managing director of James J. Fox, the oldest cigar retailer in the U.K., and is the fifth generation from his family to work in the cigar business. The panel was co-hosted by Cigar Aficionado executive editor David Savona and senior contributing editor Gordon Mott.
“I am not an investment advisor,” Fox said jokingly in his Irish accent. “I don’t have a license to give you investment advice. We have enough trouble with the FDA, I don’t need problems with the SEC as well.”
One of the first areas of the Cuban cigar market Fox highlighted was the Regional Edition program, a campaign where Habanos S.A. produces cigars exclusive to different countries around the world.
“Spain has its own cigars. Britain has its own cigars,” he said. “These are cigars in traditional brands but the size is unusual. I’ve been buying a lot over the last two years. We’re lucky because [U.K. distributor] Hunters & Frankau has put a lot of care and attention into their regionals. Spain as well.”
Gordon Mott, Cigar Aficionado’s senior contributing editor, who covers Cuba on a regular basis.
Because the Regional Editions are made in limited quantities, they tend to become more valuable over time and have considerable investment potential. When the Punch Diademas came out in 2009, for example, a box of 10 retailed for 200 euros (about $221), or 20 euro each (about $22). Today, Fox said, that same 10-count box sells for 800 euro, or about $885.
“The Cuban Regional Editions to me are very special,” Fox said. “A box of Saint Luis Rey Marquez was $100 on the shelf in Cuba in 2016. It sells for more than twice that now.”
But it’s the Reservas and Gran Reservas where Fox sees the most potential for big gains in value. Both Reservas and Gran Reservas are limited cigars made with aged tobacco from vintage-specific, banner crops. “I will buy stocks of Reserva and Gran Reserva when they’re available. That’s where I see the highest escalation of prices,” Fox said, also pointing to special anniversary releases like the Cohiba Majestuosos 1966, which launched in 2016 to celebrate the Cohiba brand’s 50th anniversary.
“The list price in England was £8,000 [$10,336], but now it’s up to £18,000 [$23,257]. There’s been a big boom in demand for luxury goods that’s been fueling that price escalation,” Fox said.
David Savona, Rob Fox and Gordon Mott discussing Cuban cigars.
If the futures market for Regional Editions and Reservas is looking positive, an even safer investment is in vintage cigars that already have high value in the auction market, which is a very small yet elite niche in the Cuban cigar trade. Cuban Davidoffs, which have been discontinued for nearly 30 years, are the gold standard of collectible Cubans, and only become more expensive at auction.
“There’s a huge demand for Cuban Davidoffs because the supply is so low,” says Fox. “People are smoking them, but Cuba’s not making them anymore. A box of Davidoff Château Latour is $5,000 if you want to buy it right now.” That averages out to $200 for a single corona. The initial investment is certainly large, but the payoff is almost guaranteed.
Fox also pointed to a series of cigars made especially for his J.J. Fox retail shop back when Habanos (then Cubatabaco) was willing to make custom, house brands.
“Habanos was much more sympathetic to retailers. They stopped that program in the 1990s,” he said.
One box of note was the Punch Nectares No. 6, a robusto made just for J.J. Fox. “My grandfather went over to Cuba and worked with the factories to develop the brand. I have a box from the mid-70s. If the store would sell them, it would be in the $5,000 price range.”
For Fox’s part, he buys about 30 boxes a year and has around 300 boxes in his personal collection.
“You need to buy them and NOT smoke them, which is tough,” he conceded. “I do the first bit really well. It’s the second bit that’s going to catch you out.”
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